Pinay scientist leads development of COVID-19 testing technology in Switzerland

by Justine Punzalan
Aug 6, 2020
Catharine Aquino-Fournier (left photo) is leading the team behind COVID-19 mass testing technology HiDRA-seq.
PHOTO/S: uplb.edu.ph / Catharine Aquino-Fournier

Joining the list of Pinoys making a name for themselves in the international scene is Catharine Aquino-Fournier, a scientist leading the development of a COVID-19 mass testing technology in Switzerland.

Fournier completed her bachelor's degree in Biology in 1996 and master's degree in Genetics in 2003 at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB).

She now heads the team creating an application called HiDRA-seq at the Functional Genomic Center, a core facility of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and the University of Zurich.

In a video conference with Summit Media held in July 2020, Fournier talked about the work that she is currently doing in Switzerland.

She said, "I am leading a group called a DNA sequencing team...

"Ang expertise talaga namin, DNA sequencing. So iyon talaga iyong marunong namin gawin.

"Kaya lang noong end of March, noong shutdown, kailangan din namin siyempre maging motivated para magtrabaho.

"Lahat ng pag-iisip namin syempre, focused doon sa COVID [dahil] apektado kami, apektado iyong family namin.

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"Naisip namin, ano kayang puwede naming gawin based doon sa knowledge namin na puwedeng makatulong doon sa mass testing."

WHAT IS HIDRA-SEQ?

In her interview with UPLB's radio program Galing UPLB on June 19, Fournier explained how HiDRA-seq fulfills its purpose.

According to the scientist, HiDRA-seq "detects the novel coronavirus using Next Generation Sequencing (NGS), a state-of-the-art DNA sequencing technology...

"It analyzes billions of DNA fragments from a cell in a matter of hours."

Fournier compared HiDRA-seq versus existing COVID-19 testing methods during her interview with Summit Media.

"Ang pagkapareho niya doon sa swab test or doon sa PCR (Polymerose Chain Reaction) test, binibilang din ng HiDRA-seq iyong dami ng virus doon sa sample...

"Ang difference nung HiDRA-seq at saka nung rapid test, ay hindi iyong response ng tao ang binibilang kundi iyong virus.

"So puwede mong malaman kung meron pang virus o wala na doon sa pasyente. Contagious ba siya o hindi na," she explained.

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Fournier also clarified that they are still midway through the project's finalization, as it Is not yet peer-reviewed.

Still, their team is hoping that soon, the Swiss government would find the HiDRA-seq advantageous to everyone.

She continued, "Pinublish din namin siya nang hindi pa siya peer-reviewed.

"Iyong peer-reviewed, ibig sabihin iyong paper mo, babasahin ng ibang eksperto 'tapos sasabihin nila kung tama iyong ginawa mo or hindi or magko-comment sila.

"Nilabas lang namin para may makabasa na ibang eksperto, meron kaming feedback agad na puwede naming baguhin or puwede ring mai-apply na agad ng mga ibang tao na nakabasa nung method...

"We're still working to optimize the method.

"We're hoping that the government will contact us so that we could use the method in the real world."

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Catharine Aquino-Fournier (left photo) is leading the team behind COVID-19 mass testing technology HiDRA-seq.
PHOTO/S: uplb.edu.ph / Catharine Aquino-Fournier
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